Dateline  Newcastle upon Tyne - Friday 1st December, 2023 10:44


by Timothy Jones, 14th July, 2017

I was unprepared for the shock news from my doctor on the 7th June as I unloaded the shopping from the car. The phone rang, she stuttered and euphomised around the matter. I told her to be straightforward.

"The 3cm egg shaped mass that the routine ultrasound scanners have found on your right kidney is mumblr-mumble", she said. I said CANCER. Even then she wobbled and wouldn't say the word.

I expect she thought that mentioning the C-word would unleash gloom at terminal velocity, but it didn't. It is not a death sentence.

My thoughts went to the philosophy of it all. Where did it come from? Why was it here? Where was it going to go?

The "where did it come from" question put me in mind of some scary stories I had heard a decade or two ago about the abundance of weed killer in the food chain. We have banned the use of DDT as a pesticide, however effective it was, because of dangers to human health coupled with its persistence in the water supply.

Chemical Roundup

Roundup SprayUbiquitous weed killer may be more lethal than we thought.
The chemical found world wide, marketed here as Roundup, is known generically as glyphosate.

Glyphosate (N-phosphonomethylglycine) was first developed in the early 1960s as a pipeline cleaner.[1] A few years later chemists at Monsanto, the rapidly growing agricultural chemical supplier, found it was an effective herbicide. In 1974 the company took out a patent for its formulation, which is water soluble and attacks plants by entering their internal metabolism.

Since then, at least 100 other manufacturers produce generic forms, but Monsanto is still the leader with £3,700 million sales worldwide in 2015.[2]

So, if it has been tested in the labs, and has been used for over forty years, what's the problem?

Health Risks are Real

Man with Kidney CancerCancer can come as a surprise.
Whilst I don't know if my alarming diagnosis has anything to do with the spread of glyphosate, the chemical does have world wide implications for other human cancers.

Despite the denials shouted from Monsanto's rooftop, a 2015 report from the World Health Organisation, authored by leading cancer experts, said that glyphosate was associated with Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma, Colon Cancer, Kidney Cancer, Melanoma, Pancreatic Cancer, and Thyroid Cancer.[3]

This review led to the EU parliament calling for a ban on non-commercial use, with large reductions to its agricultural application.[4] There are now several individual as well as class action legal claims under way in the American courts against Monsanto.[5]

Cancer CellsCancer invades healthy cells.
There is also evidence showing that glyphosate affects the hormones in your body. Called the endocrine system, they control and balance your internal chemistry to deal with the outside world. When we receive a fright we feel the surge of adrenaline, produced by glands sitting on top of each kidney. Our heart rate increases, our perceptions sharpen, our intake of oxygen rises, ready for the action needed to fight or flee the danger.

When we see a potential mate, with those delicious curves or chiseled features, testosterone and oestrogen flow to stimulate our reproductive urge.

Crop SprayingCrop spraying is big business.
The hormones act on our brains and autonomous nervous systems to produce changes in our behaviour. Disrupting this process can lead to some illnesses. In 2015 a peer-reviewed independent study showed that glyphosate is an endocrine disrupter.[6] It stated that lowered IQ, adult obesity, as well as 5% more cases of autism are linked to exposure to such chemicals.

Glyphosate stops plants from taking up vital nutrients like iron, manganese, zinc, and boron in the soil.[7] This leads to loss of basic minerals and nutrients in food crops and soil as a result. This is bad for humans, livestock, and pets feeding on crops that tolerate glyphosate, as it affects the nutritional value.

Roundup is not selective about which plants it invades, so Monsanto and others have developed genetically modified organisms (GMOs) that are unaffected by glyphosate so the liberal applications in the fields only hit the weeds.

Roundup Endsup in Our Food

Supermarket BreadThe chemicals are hidden on the shelves.
All that spraying doesn't just evaporate. Glyphosate is a systemic herbicide. It is absorbed by the plants.

When the crops are harvested they retain the chemicals inside them. Glyphosate cannot be removed from plants by washing, peeling, baking or brewing grains. In recent years, a growing number of studies have found glyphosate in common foods, human urine, breast milk, beer, 85% of tampons and even a group of elected officials in Germany, at alarming levels.[8]

Modern labs have tested processed food items for cancer causing glyphosate compounds only to find frightful amounts in some common brands on our shelves.[9] These include Kettle Crisps, Cheerios, Wheaties, Corn Flakes, Frosties, Special K, Nabisco's Oreos, and Ritz Crackers.

Breakfast for BozosDanger dressed up for kids.
So we need not only be alarmed by the high sugar content of thes products, but also the presence of cancer causing chemicals.

According to a UK Food Standard Agency test conducted in October 2012, glyphosate residues were found in 27 of 109 samples of bread sold in England at 0.2 ppm (parts per million).[10] It is used as a pre-harvest drying agent on certain food crops, including oats, wheat, barley and edible dry beans.

Not only does glyphosate turn up in our food, but also increasing levels of Roundup residue are present in air and water. When glyphosate is sprayed on farmers' fields it moves widely into the environment and further away from where it was intended.[11]

In addition to agriculture, Roundup is also used in parks, public spaces, lawns, home gardens, on roadsides, and in forestry management. Persistent exposure to low level glyphosate causes liver and kidney damage at only 0.05 parts per billion (ppb) in the environment. At this level scientists have detected its effect on over 4,000 genes. At 10 ppb it is toxic to the livers of fish. 700 ppb and both livers and kidneys suffer. Co-incidence or not, that is the declared "safe" level for drinking water in the USA. And the level found in Cheerios? 1,125.3 ppb.

How Safe is Safe?

MonsantoMonsanto, the leading producer of Roundup.
Monsanto has an eye watering revenue stream from Roundup. It is in its interest to make sure that what it does is safe. If it can't do that, it has a duty to its shareholders to appear to be doing so.

Industry funded studies in the 1970s arrived at an acceptable daily intake (ADI) of 1.75 milligrammes per kilogram of body weight. So you need to tot up all the glyphosate content of your meals and snacks to make sure you are always below this so called safe level.

This standard is not only out of date, but also is very bad advice. These sorts of chemicals can have damaging effects at low levels. As endocrine disrupters, they become toxic in microscopic quantities. Modern thinking is that the ADI should be revised to 0.001mg per kg of bodyweight. This means that for a small child of, say, 9kg the 16g daily serving of Cheerios, as stated on the packet, represents a concentration of 0.018mg per kg of bodyweight. That's 18 times the safe daily amount, without considering other foods taken during the day.

In America, Monsanto lobbied the government to increase the allowable human exposure of glyphosate residue in food. It was successful in raising the level from 20 parts per million to 40 parts per million in flax, oilseed, and soybeans.[12]

Here in Europe, we are more tightly regulated as to the daily residue allowed in our food. The limit here is 0.3mg per kg of bodyweight, one sixth of that allowed in America. This is still many more times that advised by an international panel of scientists which put the safe daily intake at 4 nanogrammes per kilogram of bodyweight, 75,000 times lower than the present EU level. This followed experiments on rats.[13]

ScientistScience fact displaces Big Business fiction.
Monsanto has held its stance for decades on its cancer causing danger compounds. It claims that Roundup is a safe product, saying, "Roundup is tough on plants, but no more toxic to people and animals than table salt ... practically non-toxic."

According to an independent peer-review study, published in The International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health in 2014, Roundup is 125 times more toxic that glyphosate alone. It concluded that the discrepancy between reputable science and the manufacturers' claims could be attributed to the huge economic interests which have always led to falsified health risks and delayed health policy decisions.[14]

What Can We Do?

Eco Weed KillerMixture for a better tomorrow.
How can we avoid the risks put about by Roundup? As a start we should be more aware of what our food contains.

Organic food is glyphosate free so it makes sense to switch where possible. We need to steer away from those highly processed foods, not just for the sake of glyphosate, but also for our health in general. The Journal of Environmental Research published findings in 2014 showing how a family that ate organic food for one week reduced 90% of the glyphosate in their systems.[15]

Sign a petition, like a few Facebook pages, write a letter to your MP. Piddle into the wind if it makes you feel better. You can only take action for yourself.

Thank your lucky stars that you live in Europe (if you do) and not America (if you don't) where the environmental levels are so much lower. Not negligible, just lower; after all Monsanto has to make a profit somehow.

As for me, I've been vegetarian since teenage years. I cook from raw ingredients, avoiding processed foods as much as possible.

Even so, the rogue cells have multiplied. Next Thursday the surgeon will have sharpened his knives ready for the nephrectomy, so by next weekend I shall be a few grammes lighter with three or four more holes that weren't there before.

[1] United States Patent, No. 3,160,632 (1964) Stauffer Chemical.
[2] The Motley Fool, "How Much Money Does Monsanto Make From Roundup?," May 26, 2016.
[3] WHO Glyphosate Cancer Study "Roundup (Glyphosate) in the Environment", Baum, Hedlund, Aristei and Goldman.
[4] Sustainable Pulse "Great Glyphosate Rebellion Continues as Europe Refuses Temporary License Extension,", June 6, 2016.
[5] Law Actions "Monsanto Roundup Lawsuit", Baum, Hedlund, Aristei and Goldman. .
[6] The Detox Project, "Hormone Hacking" last accessed 14th July, 2017.
[7] Sabanci University Research Database "Glyphosate reduced seed and leaf concentrations of calcium, manganese, magnesium, and iron in non-glyphosate resistant soybean" - Cakmak, I.; Yazici, A.; Tutus, Y.; Ozturk, L. . Eur. J. Agron. 2009.
[8] EcoWatch "150 European Parliament Members to Test Urine for Glyphosate" - April 11, 2016.
[9] Anresco Laboratories, "Certificate of Analysis No. 320160506" - 29th April, 2016.
[10] Food Standards Agency, "(PRiF) UDECoPRiF: Monitoring program" - 2012.
[11] Environmental Toxicology & Chemistry, "30:548,555 Occurrence and fate of the herbicide glyphosate and its degradate aminomethylphosphonic acid in the atmosphere" - Chang FC, Simcik MF, Capel PD. January, 2011.
[12] Federal Register, "Vol. 78, No. 84 Glyphosate; Pesticide Tolerances" - Rules and Regulations, Wednesday, 1st May, 2013
[13] Environmental Health, "Transcriptome profile analysis reflects rat liver and kidney damage following chronic ultra-low dose Roundup exposure." - Mesnage et al, 2015.
[14] International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, "Glyphosate-Based Herbicides Disrupt Aromatase Activity in Human Cells below Toxic Levels" - Defarge, N., Takács, E., Lozano, V. L., Mesnage, R., Spiroux de Vendômois, J., Séralini, G.-E., & Székács, A. (2016).
[15] Journal of Environmental Research, "Reduction in urinary organophosphate pesticide metabolites in adults after a weeklong organic diet." - Oates L, Cohen M, Braun L, Schembri A, Taskova R. 2014.

Timothy Pickford-Jones

Timothy is a mature northerner with a background in electronics and public transport, who lives in Newcastle upon Tyne.

As well as having a keen eye on the political scene, he is a photographer, with an interest in architecture and history. Timothy has been active on the web since the mid 1990s, having curated the Timmonet site from its inception.

Since retiring from full time work, Timothy has found time for travel, creativity, and maintaining his lifelong interest in the arts.

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